Thursday, August 1, 2013


In the free wheeling 60's, "gaming clubs" started popping up around college towns. The gist of these gaming clubs (which I gravitated towards) was to re-enact famous battles in history and try to come up with an alternative strategy, where the losers would end up being the winners (Don't Give Up The Ship, The Battle of Lake Erie, was one of the first Gygax / Arnoson games that toyed with this notion).

An expirament into alternate history. Gygax 'reinvents' HG Well's minature war gaming rules, printed as a mini press fanzine, called " Chainmail ", with his gamer buddies (Jeff Preen) at the Castles and Crusades Society in the late 60's. I know that some folks at the Vintage Wargaming site might take issue with this, but for the sake of berevity, I'm hoping they'll over look my rapid fire abridgement to the history of stragety games. Remember, these articles are not about how things were...They are about how things were for me and my group(s)...Anyway, back to Chainmail. I got my copy back in 1976, then had it stolen in 1982. Then my brother got a copy at a garage sale back in 1992 (with a brown grocery bag loaded with early Dragon magazines). Honestly, the last time I looked at it, was when I visited him back in 2004.

It's kind of a dry read, but it's interstesting. It's a big inventory of midevael weapons (ex. the number of damage points they inflcit, the length of time it takes to load, the distance it reaches / travels etc) and new rules on running large scale combat for your minature soldiers, using the included weapons listings. In other words, your soldier has 5 life points (or hit points), but he's armed with a crossbow that inflicts various amounts of damage, depending on the distance (ex. at point blank range the crossbow does more points of damage, than at 200 feet).

Chainmail also added more dice throwing to the game. If you rolled higher than, let's say, a four on a six sided dice, then your soldier hit your opponet's soldier with a weapon, one strong enough to possibly knock his life/hit points to 0 (death) and out of the game (or field of battle). It's interesting, because, this tiny mini-book had a huge impact on some of my gamers. What they liked about it was...well, how can I explain it?  Hmmm....There used to be a TV show on the History channel...I think it was called Deadliest Warrior), that interviews different weapon's experts, and presents them with a hypothetical battle. The fan favorites are: If a medieval knight fought a samurai - Who would win? Or a Ninja vs.Conquistador or an Viking vs. Zulu. You get the idea. 

The experts explain the battle readiness of each side ( strengths and weaknesses of their technology and culture), then present their opinions, based on 'scientific demonstrations of force, speed and impact of various weapons'.Then all of this information is punched into the show's super computer, which calculates the incredible amount of damage a skilled knight or samurai would inflict with their weapon(s), measurably demonstrated by the experts. How?  Computer sensors are hooked up to a watermelon, a piece of wood, and an animal bone. The samurai expert chops them up with a samurai sword, the knight experts chops them up using a two handed long sword. The computer tallies up all the minutia (the number of pounds per inch of the wound, how deep each blade cuts, the speed of the attack and so on), and calculates who would win.

That's kind of what Chainmail did, 40-50 some years ago. The difference (for my group of gamers) between Chainmail and other fanzines at the time? They'd draw up a section on fantasy armies as well. So, back in 1976, if you asked, "If there was a battle between the Ancient Egyptian army and the US Calvary of 1876, who would win?"'d use Chainmail as your 'weapon's expert' to extrapolate what weapon would do what, and then calculate and compare each armies firepower, and convert that into a number you'd have to roll on the dice. You essentially acted as the computer, to figure out all the minutia, then get a die total. If your roll of the dice is greater than your opponets, you win. The better your weapons, the better your chance at winning.

However, unlike the TV show, if you have a good stragety (and a little luck of the dice) you can still win. You can, with the roll of a die, (and an oppurtunity to capaitalize on an unfolding outcome), invent an alternative, unexpected result. Those moments got addictive.
I lost track of how many times we put ninjas up aganist other historical armies (the huns, the nazis, and spanish pirates). If we knew that games like NINJA vs. NINJA were going to be so popular back then, we would've kept more of that stuff lying around.


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